Childish questions for Jane Goodall
Officials picked at least three children to ask Jane Goodall questions after her speech at the Interior Department on Friday, despite the presence of several adults with hands in the air who wanted to ask the famed animal expert about the Obama administration's decision to keep gray wolves off the endangered species list.
One child asked Goodall about space aliens, another said she agreed with Goodall's remarks, while a third young inquisitor asked how he could make the world a better place, according to an adult who attended the speech and wanted to ask a question. Adults were also called on, but Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Thomas L. Strickland, who moderated the event, appeared to seek out children.
Goodall appeared Friday at Interior headquarters to receive the first Secretary's Lifetime Achievement Award and to speak about her new book, "Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued From the Brink." As colleague Al Kamen noted last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar invited headquarters staff to attend the event via e-mail.
Following her remarks, Strickland asked the crowd for questions.
"Despite raised hands, [Strickland] searched the audience as if he saw none, then called on a child who happened to be there. He asked about space aliens," said Suzanne Sutton, a math tutor and writer from Rockville, who attended the event with her daughter, a Ph.D. fellow at USAID.
Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff confirmed that the young adult asked about space aliens, "but if you don't let kids and young adults imagine goofy things then they would never learn to be creative, intelligent adults," she said in an e-mail. There were approximately seven people called on, Barkoff said: three adults and four children.
Sutton and her daughter, Genevieve Maricle, dispute the Barkoff's numbers.
Goodall also attended a reception in her honor after the speech and spoke individually with several audience members there, Barkoff noted. The department did not -- and does not -- pre-screen questions for public events, she said.
What upsets Sutton, Maricle and others in attendance is that they think Goodall's speech merited a more thoughtful Q&A session. They also think Interior officials avoided calling on adults to avoid a conversation about Salazar's decision on gray wolves. Several environmental groups expressed disappointment with the decision when it was announced last March.
"Salazar's background as a rancher worried a lot of people, so I think a lot of us were curious to hear from this expert on extinction, and, outside of politics, if this decision has scientific validity we might not see," Sutton said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to remove the wolves from the list during the final months of the Bush administration. Salazar delayed the ruling, but then approved it in March, crediting efforts to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s.
| November 16, 2009; 1:37 PM ET
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